Date of birth: Aug. 18, 1971
Hometown: Surrey, U.K.
Number of years in Japan (cumulative): 23 (as of May 2020)
I found myself in August 1994 hungover (courtesy of the family friend piloting my BA flight) and jet-lagged in Tokyo Station wondering what on earth I had done; the person due to take me to Sendai had not shown up, and I assumed that as I had flown halfway around the world it would be midwinter — a fact that still makes me laugh now that I run a travel agency.
Try everything once and stay curious, which is technically two mottos, but they are interrelated. Personally, I believe that we only have one life to live, and I aim to make it extraordinary. These mottos remind me to say “yes,” rather than “no” to new experiences, people and situations, to keep an open mind and to seek out new opportunities to explore.
Okuni, the bespoke travel agency that I co-founded with Lauren Scharf, is my fourth child and represents the pulling together of many threads of my life in Japan. It combines my love for the country, my desire to support rural areas and encourage people to discover them, my belief that artisans should be treasured and supported, as well as the joy I find in traveling, learning, meeting people and experiencing new things.
Over the last 23 years I have traveled extensively in Japan and have had the privilege to meet some exceptional people, stay in some stunning places and participate in some truly unique experiences. Japan is so much more than Tokyo, Kyoto and ski slopes (not that they aren’t fabulous); my mission is to introduce a Japan to international visitors and locals alike that many do not know exists.
Japan is a country rich in diversity, where it is possible to experience ice floes to subtropical beaches, sprawling cities to hidden mountain villages, ancient history to cutting edge art, fashion and architecture. Once domestic travel restrictions are lifted, my advice is to start traveling and make the most of this incredible country — most places can be visited even if you only have one or two days to spare.
Japan is an incredibly safe country, and with only a few words and phrases it is hard to go wrong. For the most part, even the most basic accommodations will be safe and clean, food will be of a high standard and the public transport system is extensive. The people in rural areas also tend to be very kind and hospitable, so as with any travel, keep an open mind and hold on to a spirit of adventure to allow the magic to happen in chance encounters and unexpected finds.